Atkins 'exceptionally optimistic' about 2022

October 6th, 2021

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have reached a new phase of their development that comes with newer, narrower challenges. 

No longer looking to go from 67 wins to a winning record as they were in 2019, the Blue Jays will spend this offseason trying to go from good to great. Their 91 wins in 2021 were almost enough for a postseason spot, so now it’s a question of complementing a star-studded young core and replacing a pair of major pieces. General manager Ross Atkins thinks the club is on that doorstep, even after the frustrating end to the season on Sunday.

“Obviously, we’re not where we want to be yet. We need to be playing deep into the playoffs to take that next step,” Atkins said, “but we do feel that the organization has continued to get better and improve. We’re in a better position than we were a year ago as we go into this offseason.”

Speaking Wednesday, Atkins said that discussions with Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien, both free agents, would be ongoing with the hope that the two sides can strike deals. Those two will have a long line of suitors, of course, so this offseason could take a dozen different shapes for Toronto, some more creative than others. The Blue Jays have the pieces to be major offseason players, but it’s a daunting challenge nonetheless. 

“It just keeps getting a little more exciting for us, and hopefully for the fan base as well,” Atkins said. “Certainly internally and speaking for our players, the sentiment among our clubhouse, staff and front office is exceptionally optimistic about where this team is headed, and we’re excited about this offseason and the potential to continue to build upon the progress that has been made.”

Money matters
The Blue Jays should have money to spend. With no albatross contracts and few long-term deals on the books beyond George Springer and Hyun Jin Ryu, Toronto should have a seat at the table in all negotiations.

“As we sit today, we feel as though we will have the support. We’ve always had it,” Atkins said. “[President and CEO] Mark [Shapiro] has done a remarkable job every step of the way of sharing our vision, helping to understand where our focus is and giving rationale for why we want to do the things we’re trying to do. We’ve always had that support and expect to have it moving forward.”

Next steps for Nate Pearson
Former No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson is meeting with a doctor today to assess whether he’ll need a procedure to address a sports hernia he pitched through in 2021, though Atkins said the big right-hander felt strong physically as the season ended. Atkins also said that he envisioned an “extended outing, closer to a starter look” for Pearson in ’22.

“We have to factor in workload, factor in development and doing what’s best for him,” Atkins said. “It’s just too hard to say exactly what it will look like, but on the spectrum of things, I hope it looks a lot more like a starter than a reliever, but we’ll be open to all roles and all ways to have him help us win.”

Upgrades available at the hot corner?
Third base is one of the biggest opportunities for an upgrade the Blue Jays have this winter. While prospects Jordan Groshans and Orelvis Martinez could help this infield picture eventually, Toronto wants to win now.

“We don’t have to do it, but it’s an area where we can,” Atkins said. “Between Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal and Breyvic Valera, [they all] did a great job. Kevin Smith is an exceptional defender and had a remarkable year in Triple-A. There are ways for us to field teams without signing a third baseman, but it is an area that we will obviously be thinking about in free agency and trade.”

Having Biggio in a role where he plays more second base and moves around the diamond would be ideal, while Espinal could shine in a reserve role that still sees him getting regular reps.

Bichette the man at short
Coming into ’21, Bichette’s long-term future at shortstop was in question. Early errors didn’t help, but Bichette’s defense improved as the season went on, earning rave reviews from the Blue Jays’ staff.

“We are obviously committed to him and believe in him and believe he’s going to be a very, very good Major League shortstop for a long time,” Atkins said, “but we’re open to acquiring guys who have played a lot of shortstop, as you saw last year.”

This free agent class comes with big shortstop names like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and others. The Semien addition, and his subsequent move to second, is an excellent blueprint -- and don’t forget about third -- but Toronto is clearly comfortable with Bichette at short.